Wild Garlic Pesto

There is a large patch of wild garlic near where I live, about the size of a volleyball court. It is slightly hidden by a bush, but it isn’t tucked away, being just a few feet off a country path and yet nobody else seems to have discovered it. Or maybe they have, and just don’t know what it is…

More fool them, wild garlic is a highlight of spring for me, if only because it gives me the chance to make up a huge batch of wild garlic pesto.  I have made absolutely loads this year, which I have frozen in small quantities of a couple of tablespoonfuls each. It is absolutely divine mixed in with pasta with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a scraping of Parmesan, but it is also excellent for adding a mysterious, bright tang to soups and sauces, or just dilute it with extra-virgin olive oil and use as a dressing for salad.

It is so quick and easy to make there is absolutely no excuse for you not to try it, and it is one of those things that, once tasted, make you wonder why you ever bought pesto in a jar. The quantities given in the recipe make a large jar, if you want more just scale everything up in proportion.

Feel free to experiment with the nuts that you use, almost any nut will do the job – just make sure they are fresh otherwise their oils may be rancid, and make sure that the nuts that you use haven’t been coated or treated in any way, salty dry-roasted peanuts are delicious with a pint of beer but not so good in pesto.

wildgarlicpesto.jpg


RECIPE – Makes a large jar

100g wild garlic

50g Parmesan, finely grated

50g hazelnuts, skinned & toasted

extra-virgin olive oil

lemon juice, to taste

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Wash the wild garlic thoroughly and pick out any foliage (and insects) that don’t belong. Place in a food processor and blitz until fairly well chopped. If you don’t have a food processor then you can do the job using a knife, and make the final paste using a mortar and pestle.

Add the Parmesan and blitz again, then add the hazelnuts. When the nuts are added you will need to have your olive oil handy; turn the machine back on, and add the olive oil while blitzing to your desired consistency.

Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

This will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, and several months frozen.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

sdt.jpg

The first thing I consider whenever I cook something is: where is the flavour coming from? If it is a risotto the quality of the stock is crucial; if I am making a curry then the spices in the curry paste are the most important elements for flavour, and when making a tomato sauce the quality of the aromatics (not to mention the tomatoes) is key. Get that first consideration wrong, and it won’t matter what else you do, your dish won’t be as delicious as it could possibly be.

I long ago got into the habit of using fish sauce as a way of delivering ‘umami’, and if that isn’t appropriate then an anchovy fillet or two cooked in oil until it all-but dissolves will do the job. If you are making a dish for a vegan though, neither of these methods is appropriate, so I started using commercial sun-dried tomatoes to intensify flavours.

Anyone who knows me knows that I shy away from anything commercially processed, so will know what came next: of course, I started to dry my own tomatoes. It is a simple process, and delivers such intensity to any tomato-based sauce that you will never need to add tomato puree to anything ever again. I now use oven-dried tomatoes in all my tomato sauces, using one or two per tin of chopped tomatoes – so if a recipe calls for two tins of chopped tomatoes, I will augment it with two or four chopped dried tomatoes, depending on the intensity that I require.

They are also lovely spread on toasted bruschetta, with a little goat’s cheese as an antipasti.

To make oven-dried tomatoes:

Heat your oven to 140C/ gas 1.

Cut ripe tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, toss the tomato flesh in a little olive oil (I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large freezer bag, add a kilo of seeded tomatoes and work the tomatoes around the bag so they are fully coated) then lay the tomatoes in a single layer on a rack, set over a baking tray.

Just pop them in the oven and leave them for 2 to 3 hours, until they are reduced in size by about a third. At this point they will still be quite plump, you can go even further and leave them in the oven for up to eight hours so they are fully dried out and leathery. Cooked this way they can be stored almost indefinitely in the fridge.

Pack a kilner jar (or similar) with the dried tomatoes, cover completely with olive oil and store them in the fridge. I have had a jar of plump-dried tomatoes in my fridge for months and they are still perfect, so I have no idea how long they will actually last – long enough, that’s for sure.

If you completely dry your tomatoes then in most cases they can be stored dry, but will need to be re-hydrated in water overnight before use.

Yellow Curry Paste

Curry paste is ridiculously easy to make, yet is unimaginably better than anything you can buy from a supermarket. It freezes well and will last for months, so you can make a batch as in the recipe below, divide it into portions of 2 tablespoons each, put into a freezer bag and you’ll always have the makings of a fast and delicious mild Thai curry.

Curry-Paste.jpg


RECIPE – Makes approximately 5 servings

1 tsp white peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coarse sea salt

2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp curry powder

1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, chopped

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and chopped

1 small red onion, peeled and chopped

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a 3cm knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp groundnut oil


METHOD

Heat a small saucepan over a medium heat (NOT a non-stick pan), add the peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds and dry-toast for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Be very careful not to burn them, turn them out onto a plate to cool before grinding to a powder in a coffee grinder reserved for that purpose, or in a mortar and pestle.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a thick, bright yellow paste. Easy!

Masala Paste

If you look through this blog you will notice that I make quite a lot of spicy food, I can’t help myself, I love it. Some find working with spice quite scary, as if it is a dark art, or they look at the ingredients list for an authentic curry and move on because it is so long. Actually, if you follow a trusted recipe exactly then spice is extremely easy to cook with, and of course the more you cook with it the more you will understand it.

To cut out some of the preparation I always have a stock of pre-made pastes in the freezer. They freeze extremely well and the flavours intensify the longer you leave them. This is one of my favourites, a flavour-packed, vibrant paste that isn’t too hot. It is great used anywhere a recipe specifies a store-bought masala or balti paste.

IMG_0617.JPG


RECIPE – Makes 8 tbsp

1 tsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground

1 tsp coriander seeds, dry-fried and ground

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

a big thumb of fresh ginger, finely chopped, or 2 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp groundnut oil

2 tbsp tomato puree

a handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks

sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper


METHOD

First, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth puree. The coriander won’t chop up finely enough to disappear but that’s no problem.

Chaat Masala

The one ingredient that most Indian snacks, street foods, roasted and fried food and salads rely on for their instant zing and spicy sparkle is Chaat Masala. This spice mix is a blend of spicy, salty and tart flavours and is usually added to the food after cooking and right before serving. It is one of the secret weapons of your local Indian restaurant.

Usually a good sprinkling of a tablespoonful (or more, experiment with it) over the prepared dish and a good stir through to combine is all that is needed. Chaat Masala adds an unbelievable edge to the flavour. Some of the ingredients are a little esoteric, like the ground black salt, but are well worth tracking down online if you cannot find them in your nearest international food store.

chaat.jpg


RECIPE – makes a small jarful

3 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground

1 teaspoon toasted coriander seed, ground

1⁄2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, ground

4 teaspoons amchoor powder (powdered dried mango)

3 teaspoons ground black salt (or ordinary salt if you really can’t get it)

1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pinch asafoetida powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon Carom seeds

1⁄4 teaspoon ground dried mint

1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon paprika


METHOD

First, dry-toast the cumin, coriander, fennel and carom seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all ingredients, and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Simple as that!

Garlic Butter and Garlic Bread

It’s the little things that matter when you are cooking; whether it is the choice of oil, the freshness of the ingredients or the judicious selection of side dishes.

I guess everyone knows how to make garlic butter: take some butter and mash some garlic into it. Yes? Well okay, yes, but add a few little extra things and you will experience garlic butter that will make you cry with joy. Simon Hopkinson, restaurateur and writer, is responsible for this, and he has my eternal thanks.

Garlic bread is a must-have when I am serving meatballs, lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese. It is so easy to make you will never reach for the ready-made supermarket version again.

buytter.jpg


RECIPE – Sufficient to make a baguette into garlic bread 

125g unsalted butter

4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp Pernod

a pinch of flaky sea salt

a twist of freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of cayenne pepper

3 drops of tabasco

1 long French baguette


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients (except the baguette, of course) into a bowl and mash together until fully combined. Roll out a 30cm square piece of cling film and place the butter mix in the middle, then using the cling film to shield your hands, mould and roll out into a sausage. Wrap the cling film tightly around it and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To make the garlic bread: heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. Cut the baguette 3/4 of the way through in slices 1cm thick; the baguette will still hold together but is easily torn apart when served.

Take the chilled sausage of butter and cut thin slices, place a slice of butter in between each slice that you made in the baguette.

Take a length of baking parchment, long enough to wrap the baguette. Scrunch it up and wet it under a tap. Shake it so there is no excess water, then place the baguette into it and wrap tightly so it is sealed. Doing this ensures that your baguette (which has already been baked) steams as it heats and remains moist. Place onto a large baking tray and bake for between 10 and 20 minutes until it is done to your liking – keep an eye on it!

Preserved Lemons

I love middle-eastern food, it is fast becoming my go-to cuisine when I’m not sure what to cook. It’s the intense bursts of flavour coming from unfamiliar ingredients that keeps on drawing me back: the dark smokiness of dried limes; the sharp intensity of barberries; the intoxicating aromas of dukkah and za’atar, and the sunshine brightness of preserved lemons.

I had been buying preserved lemons for years, until I discovered just how easy it was to do at home. Is there any point to making your own rather than just buying them in? Not really, except for the satisfaction of having yet another thing in the pantry that you have made yourself. It’s a good feeling.

Preserved-Lemons.jpg


RECIPE 

Lots of ripe unwaxed lemons

120g fine sea salt per 1kg of lemons


METHOD

First, sterilise your chosen jar and its lid: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jar and lid in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lid and jar or you will undo your good work.

Wash the lemons well, trim off the pointed end and cut through the lemons so you have four segments, still attached together at the stem end. Sprinkle the salt into each lemon, then push the lemons down into the jar, as hard as you can so they are under pressure. When you cannot fit any more lemons into the jar, fill the spaces with more freshly squeezed lemon juice so the lemons are completely covered. The quantity of salt that you will need is determined by the total weight of the lemons that you used, including those that you only used the juice from.

Seal the jar and leave in a cool dark place for a month, at which point the lemons will be ready to use. You can use the flesh, though it is the peel that is used more often – chopped finely and sprinkled into salads, stews, soups, tagines… anywhere a burst of citrus is required. You can also use the briny juice as a seasoning.

Be sure to keep the preserved lemons in the jar covered in juice at all times, adding more freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary, and these will last for as long as you need them.

Home-Made Chilli Oil

I am always looking for ways to get more flavour into my food, one of the easiest ways is to carefully choose which oil you cook with. That subject deserves an essay all its own, suffice to say that when cooking anything spicy – whether it is from Italy, Thailand or anywhere in-between – chilli oil can add even more zing to your meals.

I have always found store-bought flavoured oils to be either insipid or rough, whereas what I need from a flavoured oil is character with subtlety. Beware though: this chilli oil can be fierce, nothing subtle here! It is easily diluted though, so if you want the character that it brings but aren’t too keen on obvious heat just add a few drops to the pan with your regular oil.

I find this works extremely well as a drizzle on a pizza straight from the oven, tossed through drained pasta, or used on its own as a cooking oil in place of regular oil. When you cook, make the first question you ask yourself: ‘which oil shall I use?’ and you will soon find endless ways to use this oil.

The quantities used in the recipe are extremely flexible; I tend to make this in 200ml batches and store it in a cool, dark cupboard. It will keep for ages if you follow the instructions, and as it ages it develops more heat and, bizarrely, more subtlety.

HomemadeChiliOil.jpg


RECIPE 

150ml olive oil

30 red birds-eye chillies, finely sliced, seeds left in

1 tbsp dried chilli flakes


METHOD

First, sterilise your chosen jar or bottle, and its lid: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jar and lid in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lid and jar or you will undo your good work.

To ensure that you make exactly the right amount, put the sliced birds-eye chillies and dried chillies in your chosen jar, then top up with regular olive oil until the jar is very nearly full. Empty the entire contents of the jar into a small saucepan and gently warm the oil for a few minutes until the pan is too hot to touch. Leave it to cool for ten minutes or so, then put the chilli oil back into your jar. You can use it immediately, but when it has been infusing for a couple of weeks it is an absolute knockout.

Vanilla Extract

First, a word of warning: never, Never, NEVER buy vanilla essence. It’s a nasty chemical substitute for the real thing.

Second: make your own vanilla extract. It is ridiculously simple and involves nothing more than two ingredients. Even the most pure and expensive commercially-produced vanilla extract contains a number of additional elements, including sugar. You don’t need them in your life. What you DO need are two kinds of vanilla extract: made with vodka for a clean vanilla taste, and made with dark rum for a darker, more complex caramel flavour. Experiment with both kinds in your baking and you will soon be turning out cakes so good you would swear they had been made by Mary Berry.

vanilla_extract.jpg


RECIPE – makes 100ml

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

100ml of vodka or dark rum


METHOD 

It doesn’t get any easier than this: put both halves of the split vanilla pod into a 100ml bottle (the exact size is largely immaterial, anything between 50ml and 120ml will produce perfect vanilla extract). Top up with the vodka or rum, then put the lid on and set it aside for at least a month. It will last for as long as you need it to, but if my experience is anything to go by you will use it up pretty quickly once you discover just how good it is.

Carrot Puree with Star Anise

If you eat in a high-quality restaurant, or watch cooking competitions such as Masterchef you will be familiar with the smears and piped blobs of pureed vegetables used to add visual and flavour interest to dishes. It is easy to dismiss such fancies as pretentious twaddle that have no place on your own dining room table, but actually – used judiciously – they really can enhance a dish, and they are quite simple to make.

This particular puree is excellent alongside beef or salmon, and I have also used it as an accompaniment to cottage pie. Use it sparingly as it is quite intense, but delicious nonetheless.

Making things like this makes me smile, if only because I get to use the small copper sauce pans we picked up for a song at a car-boot sale!

IMG_0603.JPG


RECIPE – serves 4 as a garnish

3 medium carrots, finely sliced

40g unsalted butter

100ml vegetable stock

1 star anise

2 tbsp double cream


METHOD 

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the carrots. Cook in the butter for five minutes until just starting to soften and the butter is thick and juicy with carrot, then add the vegetable stock and star anise. Simmer for fifteen minutes until the stock has reduced and the carrots are meltingly soft. Add the double cream, stir thoroughly then tip into a blender and blitz until it is very smooth.

Tip into a coarse sieve and push the puree through it into a small saucepan, this will ensure that the puree has no lumps. Check and adjust the seasoning, and warm thoroughly before serving.

How you serve it is up to you, if you are dressing a plate for a dinner party then let your imagination guide you, but if it is for a midweek dinner just serve a dollop on the side of the plate – there’s a time and a place for pretentious twaddle!